Let us imagine that the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, were to decide that the wonderful offices in the spectacularly beautiful Palazzo Chigi in Rome (see photo above) were not befitting the modern times of austerity and economic crisis.
Let us further imagine that he would decide to give an example, and move the offices of the Prime Minister in more modest quarters in some conveniently located, but cheaper and far less spectacular office space in, say, the EUR neighbourhood, seat of several Ministries already.
Let us also imagine that, for obvious security and prestige reasons, the Chigi palace were to be left empty.
Finally, let us imagine that the total space occupied by Mr Letta in the new EUR quarters were actually bigger than the space occupied by his former offices.
If all this were to happen, would you say that Mr Letta is acting wisely? Would you see in his move a sign of humility? Would you not rather point out that as the old space is kept and the new space is taken out in addition, additional costs are incurred, for the sake of the appearance of modesty and humility? Wouldn’t you say that the entire exercise is a gimmick meant to fool the gullible and to ride the wave of easy emotionalism, rather than an example of sound husbandry of the resources entrusted to the Prime Minister?
Pope Francis announces with great fanfare he is not going to live in the splendid Papal Apartments. Said Papal Apartments remain henceforward empty. He goes on to occupy an entire floor of the Domus Sanctae Marthae; for a total space, as we are now reliably informed – the relevant reports were never negated by the hyperactive Press Office of the Vatican – bigger than the space he was supposed to occupy in the Papal Apartments; a space, this one, that was built for him, then Popes are not supposed to live in hotels – much less hotels run by homosexuals – as Francis does. This, without considering the additional costs and complications linked with the necessity to provide for the Holy Father’s security in a place with people continuously going in and out.
At the end of the exercise, what you have is more costs, more inconvenience, more occupied space, and a clear waste of resources. But you have the appearance of poverty.
All fine, then.
The crowds will be delighted.
If you have any doubt that the modern world has a clear aversion to thinking logically, you only have to look at some of the newspaper articles and blog posts commenting on the Pope's decision to live in a suite of hotel rooms rather than in the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace. You will find in many of those articles the usual mixture of utter illogical non-reasoning and too-clever-by-half, “sunday strategist” mentality that goes nowadays under the name of journalism.
A legend has been accredited in the last month that the Pope would prefer not to live in the Papal Apartments in order to avoid the “isolation”, and therefore the possibility of being easily manipulated, linked to such a choice.
If this is so, it appears nothing less than astonishing that no Pope among the very many who lived in the usual quarters ever noticed what is evident to every clever journalist. In fact, it appears almost miraculous that some of the Popes of the fairly recent past (one thinks of Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI and Pius XII) could be known for their relentless energy and/or strict control of the Vatican machinery. Pius XII was said to have informants from the furthest seminaries and universities, helping him to keep heresy in check, and there can be no doubt about his autocratic governing style. He had ears everywhere, and took all the important decision by himself. Look, all from the Papal Apartments!
Then there is the slight discrepancy of how comes that the very journalists who so cleverly extol the advantages of living “among the people” do not think that others might benefit in the same way. How about, say, taking a quaint little hotel in the vicinity of Whitehall and use it for a rota of local officials, majority Members of Parliament and party functionaries visiting London. David Cameron could live there and sit for breakfast every morning with the one or other Tory local councillor, or provincial MP, and know from them “what people think” instead of living in the upper floor of 10, Downing Street. The same obviously apples to the damn Nazi abortionist in the White House.
Thirdly, there is the obvious issue of space and catering possibilities. I have never been in the apartments in question, but I do not doubt they are magnificent, and provided with all comforts. I also do not doubt the space and infrastructure is there to allow for the largest hospitality. No one, therefore, could doubt if contact with “the people” is what Pope Francis wants, he can do it far more efficiently from the Papal Apartments. On a fine Monday, he could invite two dozen of nuns from one of the many surrounding institutions to lunch, and hear from their very voice what they think of the world at large. On the following day, he could just take on board the group of religious tourists from, say, Spain, extend to them a surprise invitation to a cold buffet and ask them how things are doing in and around Malaga, or Toledo. Then on the Wednesday he could surprise the school class visiting the Vatican Museums (lots of those; I have visited the Vatican Museums with the school four times at least, very probably more) and ask them to step in, visit the Papal Apartments for half an hour and ask the pupils and their teachers what they think of, say, abortion and contraception whilst enjoying some sandwich and fizzy drinks. Now that would be interesting!
In conclusion, the kindest that can be said of this argument of the “isolation” of the Papal apartments is that it just doesn't make any sense. It's like saying if you want to be more in contact with your domestic personnel you should sleep in the kitchen. It is also an insult to a Pope's intelligence, as it supposes he can be easily manipulated by just having him sleep in a certain room.
Many people don't think anymore. They merely let themselves carry away from the first novel impression or fancy idea that grasps their imagination. Whether something makes sense isn't the question anymore, whether it gives us a short moment of excitement (evoking the dark episodes of the Papacies of yore, the conspiracies and lies, the splendour and the sins of the Renaissance) is far more important.
Poor Pope St. Pius X, prisoner of a clique of shrewd manipulators in the Papal Apartments.
Imagine what he would have been able to accomplish if he had lived in a hotel!
Two pieces of news, none of them particularly good, reach me just before dinner. They both concern our new, strong-willed but, how shall I put it, perhaps just a tad self-centred Pope.
The first one I have from Father Z: Holy Thursday Mass is to be removed from his traditional location of San Giovanni in Laterano, and to be celebrated in a youth detention centre instead. A rupture with a consolidated tradition smacking, once again, of Seventies on steroids. What I personally find questionable here is not the decision to celebrate Mass in a youth detention centre, but to deliberately break with tradition and with the solemnity rightly associated with the Holy Thursday Mass.
Father Z comments, very aptly in my eyes, with the following words:
Look. I understand what Francis is doing here. Fine. But in making such a dramatic change, I fear that he runs the risk of making these change all about him, rather than some other message he wants to convey. The same goes for all the other changes he is making. The papacy isn’t just his own thing to do with what it pleaseth him to do. The changes can become distractions, especially the way the media will handle them.
Ahem, I rest my case. I would only add that I suspect the “way the media will handle them” is exactly what the Holy Father is hoping for. I miss the same commitment when it is uncomfortable.
The second one is the decision (read today somewhere on the Internet, but I don’t remember in which language) that Pope Francis still has not decided whether (not “when”) to move in the Papal Apartments. Apparently he has “taken possession”, but he just does not live there, still preferring the hotel.
Whilst the first “innovation” is a strike at tradition, this one seems to me another blow at Papal authority.
Can’t wait for a Pope living in the youth hostel. The security must be fun.
It seems to me that the mildest thing one can say is that this Pope still has problems in realising he now is the Pope, and this changes his life forever (or as long as he is Pope).
The less mild thing one can say is that “me, myself and I” starts to be written in rather large characters on this Papacy, with a series of choices showing a rather obvious lack of regard for the wisdom of the ages, from the way a Pope should dress to the way in which he should live. Again, Seventies on steroids. All this, mind, not made in a slow and subtle way, but with a rather “look at me! I am different!” written all over it.
Someone near him should have the guts to tell him: “You are the Pope, Your Holiness. Get over it”.